Bill Grogan's Goat

An American Folk Song

When trains were invented and the first railroad tracks were laid across the United States in the late 1800's, life for everyone changed dramatically.

Suddenly a person could flag down a train (using a red cloth)  and hop a ride into the nearest town. This saved days of travel on foot or by wagon. People were no longer so isolated on the prairie.

There were hundreds of folk songs about this new way of life that were invented in response to this.

"Bill Grogan's Goat" was one of them:

                             Bill Grogan's goat was feeling fine,

                         Ate three red shirts right off the line.

                         His master came and beat his back,

                         And tied him to the railroad track.

                         The whistle blew, the train drew nigh,

                         Bill Grogan's goat knew he must die.

                         He gave three bleats of mortal pain,

                         Coughed up the shirts and flagged the train.

                                                      -- American Folksong, circa 1904

Do you get the joke? The goat saved his own life, twice.

Once by hacking up the red shirts, saving himself from dying from intestinal blockage, and the second time by stopping the train before it hit him by "flagging" it down with those red shirts.

Cute song!

Campfire Favorite

A version of this song is also often sung as a campfire or Boy Scout "echo" song. Every line is sung by the song leader, and then repeated by all the other singers around the campfire:

verse (repeat):

                          Old Grogan's goat (Old Grogan's goat)

                          Was feeling fine (was feeling fine)

                          Ate three red shirts (ate three red shirts)

                          Right off the line (right off the line)

                          He took a stick (he took a stick)

                          Gave him a whack (gave him a whack)

                         Then tied him to (then tied him to)

                         The railroad track (the railroad track)

                         The whistle blew (the whistle blew)

                         The train drew nigh (the train drew nigh)

                         That goofy goat (that goofy goat)

                         Was doomed to die (was doomed to die)

                          He gave three groans (he gave three groans)

                          Of mortal pain (of mortal pain)

                          Coughed up those shirts (coughed up those shirts)

                          And flagged the train (and flagged the train)

                                              -- Boy/Girl Scouts camping "echo" song

In the Movies

"Bill Grogan's Goat" had became such a part of American culture that at the turn of the last century almost everyone knew and recognized it.

The great movie director Alfred Hitchcock even included "Bill Grogan's Goat" in his thriller, Strangers on a Train

In one scene, a very drunk math professor can be heard singing a piece of it in the background of the club car.

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